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Squaring the circle, the task of using a ruler and compass to construct a square the area of which is the same as that of a given circle, is one of those great unsolvable math problems.
Telegram now has half a billion active users worldwide, and its creator, Pavel Durov, is a particularly brilliant and highly motivated person who seems to be able to solve pretty much any problem. Since its launch in August 2013, Telegram has stabilized Growth fully funded by its founder, who left his previous creation, Russian social network VK, with $ 300 million in his pocket.
In short, everything indicates that Telegram is doing very well: when its most direct competitor, WhatsApp, reached a similar number of active users around the world, it received a takeover offer from Facebook valued at around $ 19 billion. If we consider this number to be reasonably comparable for valuation purposes, the multiplier would be extremely positive for its founders.
However, the facts suggest that these are much higher valuations: the company has just raised $ 1 billion by selling convertibles to investors like Mubadala and Abu Dhabi CP via convertibles in preparation for an eventual IPO and CP Some of them raised the previously rejected offers totaled around $ 30 billion or $ 40 billion. But Durov, having been abruptly fired from VK and learned of it through the media, has no interest in selling Telegram or going to bed with an investor who could at some point cause him problems similar to those who ultimately got him to do it have to flee from his home.
What is clear is that the challenge of monetizing an instant messaging application, no matter how many five hundred million users it has and how it grows, is not an easy one, as Facebook well knows from its efforts to make money on WhatsApp which led some to do so Users seek refuge in Telegram.
What are the options? Obviously, advertising, managing user-generated data and paying a fee. And in the case of instant messaging, previous experience seems to suggest that none of these are particularly simple. Advertise because no one seems to believe that the program they are using to talk to their friends or family is an appropriate place to advertise. Data management because users rightly feel that they are being spied on. And subscriptions … like when WhatsApp tried many years ago to only charge users 89 cents in some countries: Okay, those were different times, but one thing we mustn’t forget: instant messaging is a highly competitive environment, it does exist many options, and while heavily dependent on network economies – you won’t go to an instant messaging platform unless your friends and acquaintances are there – switching isn’t impossible.
What is Pavel Durov planning to do with Telegram? Square the circle. But how do you turn an instant messaging app you’ve been funding yourself for seven years, even with half a billion active users, into something that makes money without turning users off?
After the failure of his attempt to introduce a cryptocurrency in 2018 based on the lawsuit filed by the US SEC, Durov appears to be trying to combine the parts at his disposal in meaningful ways: advertising yes, but not for users’ private chats, and instead, through large asymmetrical channels, where it may be more acceptable given the parallels with mass media. In addition, any advertising will be respectful and have the option to unsubscribe, although Durov believes it will be accepted as a way of making these information channels sustainable.
Will advertising be based on user data? No, because that would prevent Telegram from distancing itself from its main competitor WhatsApp and combine with the atavistic fears of many of its users who are increasingly fleeing to platforms where they feel their privacy is being threatened.
Finally payment. In this case, the idea seems far from proposing pay-per-use, becoming a platform for content creators to monetize their creations by receiving payments from their followers in the form of donations or subscriptions. A mechanism that the platform could offer to generate income through commissions.
A “yes but no” in which Durov seems to have things reasonably clear and in an environment in which he has demonstrated a remarkable ability to follow a roadmap and generate a product of decent quality. If he succeeds, it would actually square the circle: to be able to get it right where many others have failed or have been massively rejected by their users.
Let’s see if it works.